Where I go: Paris
The City of Romance invokes all sorts of emotions and opinions from all walks of life, but you cannot deny that there is a certain je ne sais quois to the city that eludes description even by the best writers. While others escape to a beach paradise, I prefer to take my chances on a train to Gare du Nord. Getting around in Paris is easy and efficient; just learn the three magic words and you’ll discover that you can communicate with most Parisians. The Metro/RER lines are an excellent mode of transport, but be sure to know whether your ticket allows you to ride on both.
Most important phrase: Parlez-vous anglais? It simply means “Do you speak English?” but these three words are a godsend for the non-French speaker. Even if you’ve learnt French in school, don’t attempt to begin a conversation in it; the French will simply glare at you for butchering their language. That being said, peppering your conversations with simple French words – “Bonjour”, “Merci”, “A bientôt” and “Oui” – will stand you in good stead.
Wearing: A scarf. Those tiny pieces of silk are an indispensible part of a Frenchwoman’s wardrobe, and they all seem to have mastered Scarf-Tying 101 by the time they reach 18. Go for the luxurious Hermès 90×90 carre if you can afford one, but the emphasis is less on the brand and more on how it is tied.
Reading: Paris Was Ours, by Penelope Rowlands. It’s a beautiful collection of vignettes from writers who have stayed in Paris at some point in their lives, and it’s full of anecdotes about how life in the arrondissements really is.
Watching: People. It’s (in my opinion) the national past time of France, and every café, bistro and restaurant facilitates this by placing all the chairs at their alfresco tables on one side, facing the street. It’s not uncommon to see a group of 5 Parisians sitting straight in a row, watching street-goers instead of talking to each other.
Eating (and drinking): Paris is the land of macaroons and Michelin (stars), so make sure you grab a reservation (or two) before you arrive. Lunch set menus are a great (and much cheaper) alternative if you don’t want to splurge 100€ ++ per pax on dinner.
Ladurée is such an institution that it would be a sin if you don’t have at least a box of their famed macaroons, even though some would argue that they are fast becoming the MacDonald’s of French pastry. Have brunch at the original bistro along Rue Royale and top it off with a dessert of L’Ispahan, a delicious raspberry confection with lychees.
The streets of Paris are lined with bistros, cafés, grocers, boulangeries and patisseries, so if you’re ever hungry, just wander around and pop into one. A lovely patisserie next to the École Militaire metro exit (and Carrefour) sells the most wonderful chocolate treats.
And go on, have a glass of wine with every meal. At 3/4€ per glass for housepours (at most establishments), it’s the perfect excuse to indulge.
Toting: The Parisians are very proud of their local brands, so toting a Chanel or a Hermès will not make you seem out of place here. I bring along a Lindy – it fits my Moleskine Paris notebook, wallet, camera and everything a girl needs to survive Paris. Don’t forget your passport if you’re shopping – you’ll need it for VAT refunds.
Trotting: Ballet flats. Parisians walk a lot, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t all strap on four-inch heels for the task. Leave your heels (and those ugly sports shoes) at home and traipse around in Repettos.
Loving: The little artist market behind the Sacré Cœur at Montmartre, which is filled with painters and sketch artists galore all ready to share their art with you. Beware though, of the shifty locals who will try to sell you anything from a magic bracelet of love to tourist souvenirs along the steps of the Sacré Cœur; do not accept anything from them or let them place anything on your wrist or in your hand. In short, just avoid them.
Where I sleep: L’Hotel Ritz and George V are famous names, but if you don’t have enough dough to splash a mortgage payment a night on a room, try the boutique hotels that dot the Rue Chevert/Avenue de la Motte Piquet area. These 3-star gems are close to the Eiffel, Invalides and Trocadero, and start from an average of 85€ per room a night, depending on room size. Plus, they’re clean, have fairly big rooms, provide towels and soap and have very comfortable beds. Most hotels are within steps of various Metro/RER stops – École Militaire, La Tour Maubourg. Breakfast is usually included for an extra 10€ per person per day, but you have other dining options along Rue Cler, which is just across the road, and boasts fantastic cafés and grocery marts with fantastic prices. There’s also a Japanese and Chinese restaurant along Rue Cler if you feel like having something Asian (but really, why would you?)
What I bring: A near-empty luggage, because let’s face it, you will shop in this fashion capital. It will take a very strong-willed woman to ignore the combined siren calls of l’Avenue de Champs-Élysees and la Rue du Faubourg. My advice is, don’t try. The big brands are cheaper here (especially in light of the currently weak Euro and after VAT refunds), and you will also be lured by the various artistic pursuits that abound along the streets. It’s impossible to not take home a souvenir from Paris, whether it is the latest LV bag or a beautiful watercolour painting for your living room.
Odds and Ends: A trip to Paris isn’t complete without a visit to the Moulin Rouge or a walk along the River Seine. The cabaret is an important part of French culture, so go get thrilled by the whirls and twirls of topless girls for two hours – it’s far from sleazy, but I can’t say the same for the area in which it is situated (Blanche/Pigalle).